The Thieves (Dodookdeu)

Korea (2012) Dir. Choi Dong-Hoon 

A group of thieves – comprising of Popie (Jung-Jae Lee), Yenicall (Gianna Jun), Chewing Gum (Hae-suk Kim), Zampano (Soo Hyun Kim) and the recently paroled Pepsi (Hye-su Kim) – need to lie low after they barely get away with their latest heist so they accept a job from their former boss Macau Park (Yun-seok Kim).

His plan is to steal a precious diamond from a casino in Macau where it is held under extreme security and sell it back to its original owner, mysterious gang leader Wei Hong (Ki Guk-Seo). Park realises this is a specialist job so he recruits some Chinese partners to assist – Chen (Simon Yam), Julie (Angelica Lee), Andrew (Oh Dai-Su) and Johnny (Kwok Cheung Tsang). However Park has a hidden agenda.

The Thieves broke all box office records in Korea in 2012 and it’s not difficult to see being a glossy, ensemble cast blockbuster that pretty much delivers all of the thrills such a film promises. But this being a Korean production it offers something quite different from the Ocean’s Eleven style caper people will no doubt be quick to compare this too, delivering not one but two high risk heists to shred the audience’s nerves through its 135 minute running time.

We open the film with Popie and crew executing a theft against a rich gallery owner (Shin Ha-kyun) which almost goes well until the police come knocking the next day with seemingly irrevocable proof of the gang’s involvement. This hastens the decision Popie’s decision to take Park up no his offer, one which the gang view askance as the last time they saw park, he fled with the huge gold stash from their last job together, for which Pepsi went to jail – herself Park’s former flame.

In Hong Kong, the more villainous Chen and his crew also don’t trust park that much but the lure of the high rewards is enough to sway them. The two groups don’t particularly get along but work together in the name of money. The scam is very well crafted with the usual mixture of technological genius and simple human guile and nerve, flawlessly executed to the best abilities of all involved, to the point one hopes that real life criminals aren’t taking notes, such is the ingenuity of their methods.

As this all takes place with the ninety minute mark closing in and with another forty five minutes left to go, all states of comfort and complacency one may have settled into are about to be royally disrupted as writer/director Choi Dong-Hoon has plenty more up his sleeve. Things take a dark and violent turn post heist, with Park’s actions leading to a tense cat and mouse game during which emotions are played with, secrets are revealed and all the little subplots that crop up in the first half of the film come together for a neatly woven finale. Sort of.

There is no room for a clean ending here as Choi keeps that ball rolling right up the end credits, after which one expects the words “GOTCHA!” to appear on the screen.

As with all mutli-thread plots there are going to be moments that defy logic or stretch expectations and The Thieves is no different, but on the whole the script is very well crafted, combining familiar with fresh ideas and a well drawn cast of characters for this entertaining ride. With plenty of time to play with, Choi gets to take some time for exposition and flashbacks to key moments that shape the attitudes and personalities of our gallery of rogues.

While the Koreans are much lighter and comedic in their camaraderie, the Chinese are more prone to violence and cynicism, although Chen openly admits he is a bad man. We know we shouldn’t root for any of these guys but we sort of do, admiring their chutzpah more than anything – until the revelations come out and entire audience perception changes.

Filmed in Seoul, Busan, Macau, and Hong Kong and with the dialogue in English, Korea, Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese Choi has made an effort to create an authentic all Asian production, making the most of the various locations and getting the most out of his cast. While no one person necessarily stands out as they are all so tailor made for their respective roles, Gianna Jun seems to have that little more attention, presumably due to her recent Hollywood exposure.

Here she plays what for her is an atypical sexy role, and no surprises she does not just look great (as do Angelica Lee and Hye-su Kim) but she also does a lot of her own stunts to, mostly involving harness to scale buildings. Hong Kong’s inestimable Simon Yam has less screen time yet he seems revitalised in his role as Chen, while the ambiguity of Park and his “No honour amongst thieves” is superbly essayed by Yun-seok Kim.

This might be Korea jumping on the recent hi-the spy/heist bandwagon that Hollywood has been on, but honestly The Thieves more than stands up on its own merits. The two plots in one storytelling is the key facet for many to judge its success on, but there is no denying that the entertainment value it provides is commensurate to its reputation and box office success, something its vapid Tinsel Town contemporaries seldom achieve these days.

Huge, good looking, sexy, action packed fun.

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